Sports leagues of America: find balance, don’t contract
Tim Staub | Thursday, February 2, 2012
Chris Masoud brings up two topics of deep debate in the sports world in his Feb. 2 Sports Authority piece. Contracts and competition are important issues to the fan who is both entertained by the competitiveness of the team and whose dollar pays the salaries of the players in front of him. Having determined this, contraction will never be the right answer because it hinders the potential for cities that deserve teams.
Beginning in the 80s and continuing through the early 2000s, sports leagues in America became obsessed with the term “footprint.” They all moved to the South because the Atlanta Braves were the only non-football show in town, and the leagues wanted to cover more cities. So through expansion and moving of historic teams, these leagues decided to make one sport town into five sports towns.
No offense to you Floridians, but every league overloaded the state with teams that are perennial cellar dwellers in the attendance category. There were signs that expanding just to get a footprint was and remains a bad idea. In 2001, the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny of Major League Soccer fame closed the doors due to a combination of poor fan support and mismanagement. Other leagues should have seen this as a sign that when you take your talents to South Beach, you better be able to be able to become a member of the community. This means that the team is seen more as an entertainment piece. The team has to be embraced as an institution.
MLS and NHL have come to realize this in recent years. Over 37,000 fans file into CenturyLink Field to watch the “three year old” Seattle Sounders FC, Timbers Army and the Sons of Ben fill an entire end of their stadiums to watch the Timbers and Union play, and Winnipeg has welcomed back the Jets as if they never left. These teams were brought into the fray of top level leagues, not because the city provided ample viewers, but because the sport and the fans help create a culture where it’s not just another entertainment event.
I say move the teams that do little for the sport. Move them to cities like Hartford, Quebec City, etc. — cities that want the team to be their face. You don’t solve a broken arm by cutting it off, rather you align it to where it should be and help the healing. That is the way the sports leagues of America should approach these unsupported teams.